Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Political Science and Law

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jack Baldwin LeClair

Committee Member

Avram Segall

Committee Member

Maurice Crescenzi


The notion of human rights is an undeniable, undisputable concept that has received universal validity. However, the history of human rights has shown the difficulty that exists in protecting and guaranteeing these rights, which in turn illustrates the difficulty in enforcing international human rights laws. In recent years, the legitimacy of international human rights law has become a highly debated topic. Events in the West and the East have cast a spotlight on its authority. The question of its universality has also surfaced as more human rights violations are taking place worldwide. Several human rights issues, in both Western and Non-Western areas of the world, have forced the international community to revisit this discussion and reconsider the validity of international human-rights law and what its role ought to be.

Declarations of human rights, such as those that followed the American and French Revolutions, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, make clear, universalistic claims.1 These declarations are made with unparallel confidence. After all, human rights come from human nature and should thus be eternal and universal. But, not everyone believes them to be eternal and universal, especially when looking at its history. Some argue that the entrance of human rights into political discourse came only at certain times and specific places. “What is imagined to be universal and above history turns out to be contingent and grounded in a particular history.”2 This paradox really questions its validity.

Emerging contradictory viewpoints by Western and Middle Eastern cultures towards human rights have questioned the legitimacy of international human rights law. How can opposing views on what human rights - or what they ought to be - be reconciled to have an universal international human rights law? Can the idea of universal international human rights law even truly exist without a true consensus on what human rights are? Conflicting cultural, social, political and religious ideologies between popular Western values and publicly dominant Middle Eastern ideologies clearly undermine the legitimacy of international human rights law, hence raising valid concerns about its universality.

This thesis is divided into four chapters, with each chapter divided into subsections covering much human rights history and various themes. Chapter one provides the historical background of human rights, focusing on its origins and development. Chapter two takes a closer look at human rights in the West, examining the ideologies of the United States and its stance on human rights. Chapter three analyzes the role of human rights in Middle Eastern and Islamic cultures, while concentrating on Iran and its discourse and record on human rights. Finally, chapter four brings the previous chapters together by focusing on the current universal issues of human rights and how the clash of ideologies have undermine its legitimacy, making it even more difficult to enforce. The conclusion will illustrate the commonality between Western and non-Western societies with regard to defining and interpreting human rights, what the degree of protection should be given to human rights by the state, and how contradictory Western and Non- Western viewpoints have clashed to weaken the authority of international human rights law as a legitimate body of law.

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